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AFSCME Strong Activists Step It Up

by Pablo Ros  |  May 22, 2015

AFSCME Strong Activists Step It Up AFSCME nurses from across the nation participate in this year’s Nurses Congress, which included AFSCME Strong training.

Activist trainings were held in San Diego, California, Washington state and New York City in recent weeks, taking the AFSCME Strong campaign to the next level. 

AFSCME Strong is about engaging members of our union one conversation at a time. Coaches’ trainings occurred already throughout the country. During the next year, we will train 5 percent of our union’s members to become activists. They, in turn, will have one-on-one conversations with their coworkers about the importance of standing up for our jobs, our families and our futures. In this way, we will connect with a majority of our union’s members to fight attacks against our wages, benefits and pensions.

Coaches train activists. Activists reach out to their coworkers, engaging 80 percent of members across the nation and making our union stronger. That’s how it works.

Arabela Corros is a registered nurse in Riverside, California. She is a member of the United Nurses Associations of California (UNAC)/AFSCME Local 1199 and an active steward in her union. In early May, she became one of 164 activists trained during the Nurses Congress held in San Diego. Participants were from UNAC, Ohio Council 8, and the Hawaii Government Employees Association/AFSCME Local 152, among others. 

 “I feel inspired and empowered with the knowledge and training I obtained during the seminar,” Corros said. “I have always been an advocate for fairness and equal rights. Having a good knowledge of individual rights and responsibilities will make me a better person and an effective activist and leader. I want to help our union grow for the future of our kids.”

New York City

More than 130 activists from District Council 37 were trained on May 2nd. With a contract fight at The City University of New York, ongoing campaigns to protect public services, and a fight for pay equity on the line, the AFSCME Strong training could not come at a better time. 

As part of the training, the New York activists went to more than 30 worksites to hear firsthand from AFSCME members in 10 different locals on the issues important to them and their families. They held conversations with more than 140 workers on these sites and signed up 100 new PEOPLE members, with 70 percent at the MVP level. 

Council 28

Washington Council 28 held a training on April 11 during which 100 AFSCME members were trained as activists. Held in SeaTac, Washington, the new activists came from nearly all Council 28 locals, representing groups of workers from throughout the state.

One of the training participants, Tracy Stanley, president of AFSCME Local 1400, said her motivation for being active in her union was “knowing what is at stake and knowing there is a real possibility that we could lose many of the rights that took immense struggle to obtain.”

“There is so much to be thankful for to those before us,” she added. “Many paid the high price of activism with their freedom; some paid with their lives.  I believe I owe it to the next generation to hold on to those rights and continue the fight for further economic, social, and political justice for all American workers.”

The AFSCME Strong training was an inspiring experience to her that is already helping her achieve her goals, she said.

“Practicing speaking, and more importantly, listening techniques in a safe environment with other members has given me the confidence to speak in a number of environments where I have been able to share the vision of our union and how unions as a whole benefit not just workers that are union members, but all workers,” Stanley said.

Also, thousands of state employees walked out of more than 80 worksites on May 20 to urge the state legislature to honor negotiated pay raises. Council 28 organized the “unity breaks,” which occurred during lunch breaks at noon.

‘Thank You for Breaking the Law, Governor Christie’

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  May 22, 2015


Nearly 1,000 New Jersey residents, including more than 100 members of AFSCME Councils 1, 52, 71 and 73, had a pointed message for Gov. Chris Christie after he called on public employees to send him a thank you note for paying into the state pension system.

With the governor and his team of lawyers pursuing legal action to break his own law guaranteeing that public employees receive an annual payment into the pension system, the workers showed up in Trenton to demand that Christie honor the law. The message was underscored in the days that followed, with the American Federation of Teachers and New Jersey Education Association running a radio ads; and the Communications Workers crafting a true “thank you” from all residents of New Jersey.

“Dear Gov. Christie, Thank you for breaking the law and skipping pension payments, for destroying services and risking our retirement security to coddle millionaires and corporations with tax breaks and subsidies, for forcing workers to pay more while handing Wall Street outrageous fees for managing the pensions."

The state Supreme Court is slated to rule by the end of June on whether the Christie administration broke the law by failing to make the scheduled pension payments, as defined by the law his administration created.

Washington State Employees Take ‘Unity Breaks’ Over Stalled Pay Raises

by Kevin Brown  |  May 22, 2015

Washington State Employees Take ‘Unity Breaks’ Over Stalled Pay Raises Some 300 AFSCME Council 28 members gather in Tumwater at one of more than 80 “Unity Breaks” staged around the state to urge the state Senate to stop blocking negotiated pay raises. Credit: Scott Smriga, Council 28

Thousands of state employees walked out of more than 80 worksites this week to urge the state legislature to end the stalemate and implement negotiated pay raises for state workers.

Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) and Governor Jay Inslee last September reached a tentative agreement to fund contracts that included a total pay increase of 4.8 percent (3 percent on July 1, 2015, and 1.8 percent on July 1, 2016). The state House, controlled by Democrats, supports the governor’s budget proposal to fund the state employee contracts, but the state Senate, controlled by Republicans, continues to reject the agreements.

The statewide walkout occurred during lunch breaks at noon on Wednesday, May 20. Called “Unity Breaks” by WFSE members, the walkout was the largest coordinated job action since WFSE’s successful strike in 2001.

The coordinated effort comes a week after a salary-setting board approved 11 percent raises for legislators. “Senators who are getting an 11 percent pay raise shouldn’t be playing games with a 4.8 percent raise for a custodial worker, or food service worker, or a caregiver for the mentally disabled,” said Tim Welch, WFSE public affairs director.

Thornton Alberg, a Licenses & Inspections employee and WFSE vice president, added, “We took pay cuts, we took furloughs. It’s been hard ... we’re just falling further and further behind.” These would be the first pay raises for state employees in seven years. For two of those years, state workers took 3 percent pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs.

The demonstration included rallies inside the Department of Labor office and Department of Social and Health Services building, where more than 500 combined employees waved signs that read, “Fund public services & public employee contracts,” and “I have a family.”

Milbank ‘Back Home’ in His Union

by Michael Byrne  |  May 22, 2015

Milbank ‘Back Home’ in His Union A group of workers and labor activists march down West Grand Boulevard as they demand a raise in the minimum wage for fast food workers in Detroit on May 10, 2013. (REBECCA COOK/REUTERS)

Those who have enjoyed reading Dana Milbank’s often scathing and generally humorous column in The Washington Post, where he has skewered pretentious politicians and clueless opinion leaders over the years, were treated this week to his own personal tale of redemption.

After years in the wilderness, Milbank has come home to his union, Local 32035 of the Communications Workers of America, The News Guild.

He left the union a few years ago because he disagreed with a specific policy, he said, but he returned because he believes that our nation needs unions now more than ever, and he cited numerous statistics showing how labor’s decline has led to a crisis in income inequality. Now he is seeing signs of labor’s recovery, and he is jumping on board.

“Straws in the wind suggest a building backlash,” Milbank writes. “On Tuesday, Los Angeles approved a $15 minimum wage, joining more than 17 states and several municipalities that have raised their minimum wages since 2013. Fast food and retail employers, under pressure, have announced increases in low wages covering some 2 million workers.”

He also cited the primary win of union-backed Jim Kenney for Philadelphia mayor this week and labor’s rambunctious opposition to President Obama’s fast-tracked trade deal as evidence that unions are making a comeback.

“We can all see and feel the consequences of labor’s demise. For me and, I hope, for others, it’s time for a homecoming.” You can read his full column here.

ALEC, Legislators Caught Making Sausage

by Pablo Ros  |  May 21, 2015

”Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made,” American poet John Godfrey Saxe once said. Now there is video proof of just how ugly that process can be — especially if the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is involved.

Investigative reporter Brendan Keefe of Atlanta 11Alive TV News followed the story as far as he could at a resort hotel where ALEC lobbyists and Georgia state legislators worked on “model legislation.” Barred from the backrooms, he dug up the story through other means, including working the bar where a corporate lobbyist and Ohio state legislator supplied inside information.

ALEC officials tried to intimidate Keefe by bringing in Georgia state troopers, but the reporter stood his ground and got the story about how Georgia legislators and corporate lobbyists were literally voting on what laws to support. The result is powerful footage of sausage-making at work.

The report comes amid new revelations in an IRS Whistleblower Complaint that ALEC is engaged in tax fraud – essentially a corporate lobby masquerading as a charity. The organization has lost more than 100 corporate sponsors over the past year.

OMG! Are You Prepared for a (Union-Made) Summer?

by Clyde Weiss  |  May 20, 2015

 OMG! Are You Prepared for a (Union-Made) Summer?

Yikes! Summertime is just around the corner and you’re not prepared. For help, look no further than our handy dandy guide to union-made products.

These products not only will help prevent sunburn but they will also support good American jobs that provide living wages and benefits negotiated through collective bargaining.

Pull out the ChapStick, slather on the Coppertone, grease up that John Deere ‑ all products produced by working women and men who have safe working conditions and rights on the job because their union fought for them.

Buying union-made products also helps create an economy that works for all of us.

Shop Union! Print out this list and take it with you when you go to the grocery store, sporting goods store, hardware store or shop for a new air conditioner.

AFSCME Helps Push Kenney to Win in Philly

by Omar Tewfik  |  May 20, 2015

AFSCME Helps Push Kenney to Win in Philly Jim Kenney is flanked by more than 100 AFSCME members as he stands with AFSCME District Council Presidents Fred Wright (DC 47), Pete Mathews (DC 33) and Henry Nicholas (NUHHCE District 1199C) at an endorsement rally. Photo Credit: Omar Tewfik

PHILADELPHIA — AFSCME members were instrumental in helping a former member to a decisive win in the Democratic primary for mayor on May 19. Jim Kenney, the son of a firefighter and a former AFSCME District 1199C member, trounced the other five candidates in the crowded primary despite massive spending by pro-charter school hedge fund billionaires who backed another candidate.

Members of AFSCME District Council 33, District Council 47 and National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees (NUHHCE) District 1199C mobilized union members and their families throughout the city. With the help of AFSCME retirees, they made more than 100,000 phone calls, knocked on nearly 23,000 doors, sent more than 114,000 pieces of mail, and reached 20,000-plus members through digital outreach.

During an Election Day canvass launch at District 1199C, Kenney told members, “You know how you get your wages? You unionize and you negotiate with your employer. That’s what sets what the real wage should be based on the economy and based on your value as employees and I am so proud — I am extremely proud — to be supported by this union.”

During the campaign, Kenney ran on his progressive record and positions on strengthening public schools, forging new partnerships and accountability between the community and law enforcement, and fostering an economy that works for everyone.

Kenney faces competition in the November general election, but the Democrat traditionally is a strong favorite in Philadelphia.

The Season’s Hottest Accessories: Tattoos, Vintage Boots… and a Union Card?

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  May 20, 2015

The Season’s Hottest Accessories: Tattoos, Vintage Boots… and a Union Card?

Do you have a pile of old AFSCME T-shirts in the back of your closet? It turns out there’s a market for those! We noticed this shirt for sale in a trendy vintage shop on etsy.com, where it sold for $15. There are old AFSCME jackets going for as much as hundred dollars on eBay!

The union movement is getting a lot of renewed attention these days, and not just because we’re fighting back against unprecedented assaults on working people. There’s something retro-cool about the labor movement. Young people show strong support for unions. And for those who might want to join a union, we can promise a whole lot more than vintage T-shirts. To name a few:

  • When you finally need prescription lenses in those horn-rimmed glasses, you’ll be glad you bargained for optical insurance in your contract.
  • You eat local and buy local. Why not join your local, too?
  • Some of your favorite things are union-made. You can find the union label on every can of PBR—and dozens of other fine beverages.
  • There’s nothing more normcore than job stability.
  • Do you like vinyl records? We’ve got that too.
  • Think you’ve got a sweet moustache? Wait till you see AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. 
  • The average union member makes $207 more per week than her non-union counterpart and is more likely to have paid vacation time. You’ll totally be able to do Coachella next year.
  • And of course, we were into it before it was cool:

    Three men from the 70's with protest signs, perms, and AFSCME "In the Public Service" shirts

But there are serious reasons that young people could use a union. This may be the first generation of Americans that ends up worse-off than their parents, and it’s all because our economy has been twisted to favor wealthy business owners over working people.

Maybe you’re saddled with student debt and the interest just keeps piling up. Maybe you’re working an unpaid internship that seems to be adding more to the company’s bottom line than to your resume. Maybe you’re working a part time or temp job doing something that could have been a career back in your parents’ day – but you’re barely staying afloat.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The McJob economy wasn’t inevitable. It was carefully planned by the people at the top who are making big profits from low wages and poor working conditions. But when ordinary people talk back and advocate for a better system, we can rebuild an economy that works for everyone. We know it’s possible because we’ve done it before. Let’s bring it back into style.

Maryland Law Would Regulate Outsourcing

by Clyde Weiss  |  May 20, 2015

Maryland Law Would Regulate Outsourcing

Maryland public employees will play a greater role in ensuring the state does not outsource public services in a reckless manner under a measure signed into law last week by Gov. Larry Hogan.

“Public employees often have the best suggestions on how to promote efficiency and save taxpayer dollars,” said AFSCME Maryland Council 3 Pres. Patrick Moran. “No one knows how to improve service delivery more than the hard-working women and men who have been providing the services for years.”

The legislation was a top priority for AFSCME Maryland, which worked closely with legislators and agency staff to push for its passage.

The law will reduce the risk of contracting failures in the state, ensuring that any outsourcing effort “is truly the most effective option,” said Shar Habibi, director of research and policy for In the Public Interest, a comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting.

Previously, Maryland state agencies were required to consider alternatives before contracting out a public service, including allowing public employees to do the work. The new law, sponsored by Delegate Keith E. Haynes, will help ensure fairness both to taxpayers who foot the bill, and the public service workers who already perform the work.

State agency officials now are required to meet with a representative of the affected employees at least 60 days before entering into a contract. That includes a representative of the employees’ union. In addition, the law requires a legislative audit of contracts of outsourced services as a way to prevent cost-overruns and other problems that otherwise could go unnoticed, hurting the interest of the state’s taxpayers.

Also, the new law extends these protections to the state’s Department of Transportation and the public university system, which had been exempted from rules designed to strengthen oversight and accountability of the contracting process.

Such increased oversight is designed to give Maryland taxpayers “faith that their tax dollars are being spent wisely,” said Habibi, whose organization is pushing these common-sense reforms as part of its Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda.

Maryland is the latest of a growing list of states curbing reckless outsourcing of public services. “In The Public Interest will continue to encourage reforms that ensure public contracts with private entities are transparent, fair, well-managed, and effectively monitored, and that those contracts meet the long-term needs of communities,” Habibi said.

Last year, In the Public Interest issued a report demonstrating pervasive problems in government outsourcing to for-profit companies. Learn more about how states are working to stop bad outsourcing decisions here.

Right-to-Work Scam Hurts All Workers

by Joye Barksdale  |  May 18, 2015

Right-to-Work Scam Hurts All Workers

State lawmakers in Missouri who eagerly jumped on the right-to-work bandwagon last week should have done their homework. Maybe if they had, they wouldn’t have passed a bill that will fail union and nonunion workers alike.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) issued reports recently detailing how the right-to-work (RTW) scam hurts workers by weakening collective bargaining and unions’ ability to negotiate good wages and benefits.

According to EPI, wages in RTW states are 3.1 percent lower than they are in non-RTW states. That’s a difference in pay of $1,558 a year for a typical full-time, full-year employee, the report says. 

“At their core, RTW laws seek to hamstring unions’ ability to help employees bargain with their employers for better wages, benefits and working conditions,” the EPI report stated.

What’s the biggest difference between employees in RTW and free bargaining states? In states without the RTW scam on their books, workers are more than twice as likely to be in a union or protected by a union contract, EPI says. That’s ultimately good news for all workers, because the wages and benefits unions negotiate help to set the standard across industries and regions – and thereby build the middle class.

Unfortunately, middle class income has shrunk in tandem with the marked decrease in union density since the late ‘60s.  The Center for American Progress Action Fund finds that the RTW scam reduces wages and undermines unions “at a time when wage increases could bolster our middle class and strengthen local economies.”  

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